I am wondering the legality of making something that is totally legal in itself but if misused by someone is illegal.

An example I found online is self-aiming and shooting paintball guns such as the videos on YouTube. The camera identifies and tracks the target and is a fun and harmless device by itself but if someone were to use the device to actually harm someone not just for engineering purposes that is illegal. Is there a definition of this so I can learn more?

  • 2
    Pens, houses, cups, paper.... Is there anything that does not fit this definition?
    – bdb484
    Commented Apr 22 at 14:14
  • I will kill you eighteen different ways with.. THIS paperclip! -Ziva David / NCIS
    – doneal24
    Commented Apr 23 at 23:07

3 Answers 3


Yes, it's called "manufacturing".

Many companies manufacture guns, knives, hammers, screwdrivers, rope, computers, phones, software, etc. and they are completely legal products, while being fully capable of being used illegally. Virtually everything can be misused or used illegally with just a little imagination, so there is no need of a special term for this.

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    so if someone manufactures something that could be used illegally it is okay as long as the manufacture doesn't intend to and doesn't do any harm? I found the term Dual Use which sort of covers this as there are things civilians use that the military also uses. Commented Apr 21 at 23:39
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    Yes, of course. Why do you think it might be otherwise? Commented Apr 21 at 23:44
  • @RandomQuestion Duel Use is a specific term for things that are regulated under government licence. Here for example
    – user 55905
    Commented Apr 22 at 6:46

Dual-Use Technology

When it comes to international commerce, there are things like end user certificates for weapon sales. Nations track carefully who buys their arms, and if they are re-sold. Similar rules apply to many dual-use goods. The greater the risk of abuse, the more likely are regulations.

There are very few goods in a modern society which are totally unregulated other than taxes. Those with a low risk have fewer regulations than those with more risks -- pottery flower pots are easier to make and sell than passenger aircraft.


Dual-use technology is a term normally used for items that could have either military or civilian use. But, lots of products without military applications are still possible to use for criminal purposes, and there is no real comprehensive term for things that have both legal and criminal applications, as opposed to things which have both civilian and military applications.

There are a handful of products, that are regulated on an ad hoc basis, for their potential use in criminal activities.

  • Pseudoephedrine, whose legal use is as an over-the-counter allergy drug, is also a precursor ingredient for methamphetamines, and is regulated more strictly for that reason.

  • Drugs that have an illegal recreational use that are also used for medicinal purposes are regulated as "controlled substances".

  • Lock picking tools are regulated in some states, because of their potential use in burglaries.

  • Some localities have special requirements for sales of spray paint which is often used for graffiti.

  • There is some monitoring of nitrogen based fertilizers which can be used as explosives, of hazardous chemicals, of advanced cryptography, and of biohazards.

  • There is some regulation of explosives and firearms which can be used both legally and illegally, although this is a complex subfield of its own with a deep history in U.S. politics.

  • Motels whose rooms are commonly used for criminal activity such as prostitution and drug dealing, can be shut down by local governments as a public nuisance.

  • Nuclear materials are comprehensively and intensely regulated under environmental laws with additional non-environmental regulation purposes because of their potential for illegal or military use.

In general, however, it is legal to make something that is totally legal in itself but if misused by someone is illegal, and in most cases, there is no special regulation of such products. This is largely because almost all products can be used illegally.

A manufacturer of these good not subject to any special regulations has some limited common law duty of care to not actively conspire to assist criminal to use their products illegally.

This common law duty was implicated, for example, in lawsuits against drug companies that engaged in practices that led to over overprescribed prescription opioids.

But this common law obligation is usually only triggered in cases where the manufacturer has a high level of knowledge of what is going on (and no legal immunity freeing it from an obligation to act upon that knowledge) or is engaged in deliberating insulating itself from acquiring that knowledge to a suspicious degree which implies that they strongly suspect what is happening.

Until very recently, online classified ads where insulated by Section 230 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act from civil or criminal liability for the use of their advertisements in connection with sex trafficking, despite the fact that advertisements connected to sex trafficking were a large share of the revenue stream for some firms and despite the fact that the firms knew that this was true, but recent amendments to that law have made this protection less absolute.

Incidentally, legal regulations of people who buy things that are often obtained criminally, but can be sold legally, are also often regulated closely. Examples include:

  • Receipts of large amounts of cash (which could be money laundering);

  • Pawn shops that buy used goods that could have been stolen.

  • Scrap metal shops that buy goods (especially platinum from catalytic converters that are often stolen); and

  • Body parts that are sometimes the fruit of murders.

  • it's Ammonium-nitrate fertilizer that is usually regulated due to the simplicity to create ANFO. For Fertilizer it is at times mixed with a stabilizing substance that prevents turning that batch of Ammonium-nitrate into ANFO.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 23 at 15:21
  • As for scrap metal: copper is at times obtained illegally by ripping cabling or piping from buildings, and in one case I know about someone stole abut three meters of 3 inch copper cable that connected a train high voltage line and resulted in a whole day of heavy delays.
    – Trish
    Commented Apr 23 at 15:32
  • @Trish In Alabama, in early February 2024, somebody stole an entire 200 foot AM radio broadcasting tower. I don't know how you fence that. theguardian.com/us-news/2024/feb/08/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 23 at 16:50
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    @ohwilleke You disassemble the structure and turn it into the fence surrounding your Alabama farm.
    – doneal24
    Commented Apr 23 at 23:09
  • @doneal24 Ha! Ha!
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Apr 24 at 0:37

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